April 30 – Middletown 366


Connecticut Hospital For the Insane Opens

On April 30, 1868, after a 13-month construction period, the hospital opened its doors for care of the mentally ill. In its first year of operation, the hospital admitted 268 patients.

The Connecticut legislature voted to make “ample and suitable provision for its insane” (400-500 patients estimated at the time) and established a Board of Directors to research other hospitals and to guide the project. Dorothea Dix, the legendary social reformer and advocate for the indigent mentally ill, was among those consulted, and she attended several of the early board meetings. After 150 acres were “offered gratuitously to the state for the purposes of the hospital,” another 80 acres of flatter land were purchased, deemed to be more suitable for building. A waterway known then as Butler’s Creek (probably present-day Reservoir Brook?) served as a source of fresh water.

Shew Hall
Shew Hall

A groundbreaking ceremony for the first building, still standing and known today as Shew Hall, took place on April 1, 1867.

“The slackness of the demand for labor and stone, incident to winter, and the fact of a ‘natural bridge’ of ice on the river were availed of for cheaply hauling to the site several hundreds of tons of sand and stone to be ready to use in the spring … also for the construction of a wharf very near the site.” (Middletown paid for the wharf.)

The cornerstone was laid on June 20.

Source: Connecticut Valley Hospital Archives, researched by Patricia Guerard.

Story submitted by John Hall.


Old Whaler Dead

Middletown, Conn., April 30.–George Comer, one of the last of the old New England whaling ship masters who accompanied Donald B. MacMillan on many expeditions to the Arctic, died last night. He was 79.

From the Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), Friday, April 30, 1937.


3 Wesleyan Buildings Damaged By Separate Blazes in 3 Hours

Middletown, Conn. (AP)–Separate fires, which police say were caused by fire bombs, did damage to three Wesleyan University buildings within three hours this morning.

The first blaze was reported at 3:15 a.m. in a Downey House on the corner of High and Court streets. The building houses a college store and dining hall.

The second was in a vacant house owned by Wesleyan on William Street.

The third was in a building on Willis [sic] Avenue used for offices, opposite the field house.

Firemen returned from the third fire shortly after 6 a.m., but no damage estimate was immediately available. No one was injured.

Although no connection with the fires was known, officials thought the blazes might be tied to a student strike at Wesleyan. The strike, by students sympathizing with the Black Panthers on trial in New Haven for the slaying of a fellow Panther, began Wednesday and was expected to continue today.

The number of students taking part in the strike was hard to estimate, since few classes meet on Wednesday.

The strikers held a rally Wednesday night and plan another for tonight, with either David Dellinger or Jerry Rubin of the Chicago Seven and Doug Miranda, captain of the New Haven Black Panthers, speaking.

From the Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Conn.), Thursday, April 30, 1970.

1910: Giddy Students are Canned

Middletown, Conn., April 29.–Fresh from triumphs along the “kerosene circuit,” a musical comedy struck Middletown to display the “shapely chorus” to townspeople and Wesleyan students.

Today three of the college’s leading lights got a year’s suspension because they burned the midnight rum omelet for three of the most shapely. Following the performance, the trio led their conquests to the “leading lobster palace.”

Having left the girls at their hotel, the students wended a devious way toward their dormitory. En route President Shanklin was encountered, discoursing to guests from the New York East Methodist conference on the good behavior of his charges.

The trio were glad to see him, and made it known that “cherries were ripe.” Suspension followed.

From the Spokane Press (Spokane, Washington), Friday, April 29, 1910.

April 28 – Middletown 366


Too Revealing?

“They publish the ages of the parties married in a Middletown (Conn.) paper, a procedure not relished by brides of bridegrooms of an uncertain age.”– From The Daily Journal (Wilmington, N. C.), Apr. 28, 1867.


The Rotary Club of Middletown

The Charter Night establishing the Rotary Club of Middletown took place on April 28, 1925, just 20 years after the first Rotary Club was founded in Chicago.  Wesleyan University President James L. McConaughy was instrumental in establishing the Club, having been Rotary District Governor in Southern Illinois before moving to Middletown to become President of Wesleyan in 1924. The 23 charter members of the Club began meeting at the Arrigoni Hotel, and in its early years supported community organizations such as The Boy Scouts, The Middlesex Hospital, The Cromwell Children’s Home, The Connecticut State Hospital, the YMCA, the Community Chest and Long Lane School.

In the 91 years since its founding, the Middletown Rotary Club has continued to support local non-profit organizations addressing issues of illiteracy, hunger and the environment, as well as international service projects. Its members endeavor to live according to the motto, ‘Service Above Self.’

Thanks to Biff Shaw for information in this article.

1961: Dam Collapses, Homes Flooded

3 Hurt, No One Killed; Property Damage Heavy

Middletown, Conn. (AP)–A dam gave way at Crystal Lake before dawn today, sending a four-foot wall of water rushing intro an area of a dozen homes. No one was killed.

The water poured down a hill, swirled across a chicken farm and Millbrook Road and–a half mile from where it started–gushed into an area of small houses.

Some residents dashed through the darkness to higher ground. Others moved to second floors. Nobody was hurt seriously although three were treated for minor injuries.

Damage Heavy

Damage estimates ranged up to several hundred thousand dollars. Police Chief John Pomfret said 10 homes were damaged.

The water broke trees down, tossed boulders around like pebbles, damaged four roads, moved one car 400 yards, cracked porches and homes and moved houses from their foundations.

In its 15-minute rampage, it also gurgled into the boiler room of the Russell Manufacturing Co., forcing the plant to close.

Behind it, the water left two to three inches of debris in homes, furniture upset, flopping, dying fish–and frightened residents.

Lou Angi said his wife awakened I’m at 3:15 a.m.

“What are we going to do,” she said, watching the water swell toward their home.

“Get out of here,” he replied.

They grabbed their two daughters–aged 8 and 4–and started next door to the home of Angi’s brother-in-law, George Clegg, who lives on higher ground.

The water knocked down Mrs. Angi, who was carrying one of the girls. Angi picked them up and half-carried, half-dragged them to the other home, where they moved upstairs.

He said the water reached its crest in about 15 minutes and then began to recede.

Authorities said the base of the dam had been damaged some days ago and the Russell Co., which owns the water rights, had had divers working there for two days.

The dam is about 60 to 75 feet long and is located in Falcon Park on top of a hill in the South Farms area of town.

Miss Virginia Gilbert, who lives in the area, said she awakened suddenly during the night.

Strange Noise

“I heard a strange noise outside and it got louder and louder. I got up and looked out the window. I could see the flood water rushing down the street. It was three feet high, maybe more.

“The water flooded our first floor about two feet deep. It pushed a tree through a window and smashed the front veranda. Then another tree smashed another window.

“People in houses across the street climbed up on their roofs. I just prayed the houses wouldn’t be washed away. We were lucky, we had a second floor, but they had only one floor.”

From the Corpus Christi Times (Corpus Christi, Texas), Thursday, April 27, 1961.


1899: Strike on the New Haven Road

Switching Crew of Nine Men at Middletown Quit Work, Tying Up Freight Traffic.

Middletown, Conn., April 26.–A switching crew of nine men, employed in the freight yards of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad here, struck work today, and as a result no freight has been moved since 8 A. M.

On account of the freshet the water from the Connecticut River flooded the freight yards, and the men say they have been obliged to work sixteen and eighteen hours a day for two weeks, moving the cars through two or three feet of water.

Word has been sent to Hartford for another switching crew.

From The World (New York, N.Y.), Thursday, April 27, 1899.

1898: May Lose His Bark

Middletown, Conn., April 25.–Relatives of Captain Stephen Gibbs of this city are fearful that his bark, the Olympic, which left Seattle ninety-two days ago, to round the Horn, en route for Boston, will be seized by Spaniards. Captain Gibbs also sights the Cape Verde Islands on these trips, and is expected that he is in that vicinity now. He is accompanied by his wife and four small children and a crew of twenty-five men. The Olympia was last reported off the Mexican coast on February 7.

From the Wichita Beacon (Wichita, Kansas), Monday, April 25, 1898.

1957: Huge Laboratory Opens Next Month

Middletown, Conn.–The $50 million laboratory in Connecticut where the world’s first atomic aircraft engine may be developed is to open next month, reports the New England Council.

By mid-May, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft corporation, which will operate the Air Force center at Middletown, expects to move in a first contingent of 500 administrative personnel and office workers. They’ll be closely followed by laboratory workers now in other Pratt & Whitney Aircraft operations.

The entire force will be concentrated on the goal of developing a nuclear-powered aircraft engine.

By fall it’s estimated the center’s staff will number 3,500 people, of whom half will be scientists and engineers.

From the North Adams Transcript (North Adams, Mass.), Wednesday, April 24, 1957.

April 23 – Middletown 366


The “Moodus Noises” Again Start Up

People Living Near by Jumped From Their Beds–Seemed Like Earthquake

Middletown, Conn., April 23.–The “Moodus noises” which occasionally have alarmed the inhabitants of the Connecticut River Valley in this neighborhood for 250 years, started again yesterday. The residents of Haddam jumped out of bed at 4 o’clock, when the rumbling noises began. The sound was similar to that of heavy thunder, but citizens who looked through their windows expecting to see an approaching storm were surprised to find the sky entirely clear.

Inquiry has failed to show any explosion occurred which would account for the disturbance. The only explanation is that it was the “Moodus noises,” about which there has been much discussion, and which are supposed to be connected with Mount Tom in East Haddam. The noise was also heard in Chester, several miles south, while on the opposite side of the Connecticut River, in Moodus, East Haddam, the phenomenon was even more distinct than on the Haddam side.

From the Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), Thursday, April 23, 1903.


Amy Archer-Gilligan passes away

“Sister” Amy Duggan Archer-Gilligan was born in Milton, Connecticut in October 1873. She was the eighth of ten children born to James Duggan and Mary Kennedy. Amy married her first husband James Archer in 1897 and in 1907 the couple to purchase their own residence in Windsor, Connecticut to open “Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm.” James Archer died in 1910, seemingly of natural causes. Amy had taken out an insurance policy under his name a few weeks before his death. She was able to keep the home running after his death.

Amy married her second husband Michael W. Gilligan in 1913. He died the next year under the official cause of “severe indigestion.” Amy forged Michael’s will before his death and his entire estate was left to her.

There were 60 deaths in the Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm between the years of 1907 and 1917. When one apparently healthy man, Franklin R. Andrews, dropped dead on May 29, 1914, his sister became suspicious. She found that Amy had been asking her brother for money. She discovered that Amy Archer-Gilligan’s clients seemed to have a habit of dying after giving her large sums of money.

The bodies of her second husband, Franklin Andrews, and three other clients were exhumed. All five were found to have actually died by poisoning. Local merchants also testified that Amy bought large quantities of arsenic under the guise of “killing rats.”

She was convicted of murder on July 18, 1917 and later transferred to the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane in Middletown in 1924. She remained there until her death in 1962.

Story contributed by Kimberly Singh.


1929: Cities in Connecticut Do Away With Trolleys

(By International News Service)

Middletown, Conn., April 22.–Middletown will soon join the rapidly growing list of Connecticut cities that have no trolley cars. The Connecticut Company has asked permission from the public utilities commission to do away with all street cars except those of the interurban line connecting with Hartford and substitute buses. Already buses are used on other interurban lines, and some of the local lines.

From the Amarillo Globe-Times (Amarillo, Texas), Thursday, April 25, 1929.

1910: An Electric Alarm

Middletown, Conn., April 21.--After months of frequent stealing of his chickens Henry I. Nettleton, a farmer, near Durham, rigged in his bedroom an electric alarm that would inform him of the opening of the hennery door. At 2 o’clock this morning the alarm rang. Donning rubber boots and an overcoat he rushed out and found a man with a bag at the hennery.

The men grappled. In the tussle Nettleton was hurt, but he overcame his opponent. Mrs. Nettleton brought a lantern by the light of which the couple recognized Frederick Hall, a well-to-do neighbor.

Hall did not appear this morning and Nettleton got a warrant for his arrest on a theft charge.

From the Wichita Beacon (Wichita, Kansas), Thursday, April 21, 1910.